By Tamara Anne Fowler | CNA Media Team
Dean Johnston, retired Portland firefighter, once played a helicopter-delivered Santa. It was during the 2012 holiday season. The event, held in Washington County, was put on by Tualatin Fire & Rescue with Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R).
“When you are dressed as Santa Claus, it’s amazing how many people wave at you,” Dean said.
Although less dramatic but more impactful than playing Santa is his work with PF&R’s Toy & Joy Makers. Dean has been with the group headquartered next door in Cully Neighborhood since 1969, and he became director in 1984.
Toy & Joy helps low-income families in the Portland area give their children toys for Christmas. It also works year round to soften children’s tragedies of losing their toys to fire, flood, earthquake and other disasters. Work is in partnership with the Portland Police Bureau and agencies that work with domestic violence.
During the holiday season, volunteers contact and work with state and local agencies that assist low-income families with children in need of a little holiday cheer.
The Toy & Joy Makers program is the largest of its kind in Oregon and has a long respected history working with state and local agencies.
Toy & Joy started giving toys to needy children in 1914. That’s when PF&R’s role in the community began to involve working with schools and teachers to find and assist families in need, and working with schools to teach children about giving and helping their communities.
Cash donations are used to purchase toys at wholesale prices. Each child served by the nonprofit receives several age-appropriate toys. Many firms and groups donate money or toys to the effort, in lieu of sponsoring a holiday party for employees.
Toy & Joy board members also meet with businesses that can help with donations of money, supplies, inventory and public relations. They also work with businesses to show how they can get involved helping with toy collection or donation programs.
By December, there are 20 to 25 Toy & Joy volunteers helping each day. There are no paid staff members.
And, as for Santa Dean, he enjoys his role. “It’s the warmth of giving and being with the family that makes this a favorite time of year.”
Tamara Anne Fowler is Edit Kitten, a writer with 20-plus years of experience offering a softer, gentler approach to editing and coaching. Her personal editors — Armani, Max Factor and Spicey’D — are also her cats. Visit her at EditKitten.com or contact her at Tamara@EditKitten. com.